Chamber's speaker asserts health is a nonpartisan issue


While next Tuesday's elections are on the minds of many, the speaker at the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce's Power in Partnership breakfast Thursday had a particularly nonpartisan message.

"I don't know if anybody here owns a television set, but if you do, you know how partisan things have become," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

"Our foundation is determined to operate in a nonpartisan manner because health matters to everybody equally. It's just as important to one person as it is to anybody else."

The foundation was formed in 2001 to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities and promoting health equity. It has invested about $28 million in health policy advocacy, research and demonstration projects across the state.

"What we're involved in is absolutely critical," Chandler said. "There isn't anything more important than your health. It doesn't matter what else you've got. If you don't have your health it just doesn't matter."

Chandler touched on a number of health topics, including the opiod crisis, marijuana, access to health care, smoking and cancer.

"This opiod problem has been pretty rough. We've had an all-time record in overdose deaths here in Kentucky," he said.

"Most people in the state believe we're suffering an epidemic, and we've got a lot of work to do. There are a lot of different things that we can look at, like alternative pain treatments and so forth, and we're trying to get the message out on this.

"One of the other things that we're going to be talking about is whether medical marijuana is a good or bad thing. We are talking about even having a conference about marijuana," he said. "Canada just legalized marijuana, so that's an issue we're going to have to deal with one way or another here in Kentucky, whether we like it or not."

The foundation is working with Gov. Matt Bevin to help Kentuckians who were covered under the previous administration's expansion of Medicaid to continue their coverage with Kentucky Health, a program Bevin put together which requires, among other things, community engagement on the part of the recipients and paying a small premium.

Chandler referenced a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that indicates since 1980 cancer mortality in the nation has declined by 20 percent ... except in Kentucky.

"It actually singles us out and says cancer mortality has gone up in Kentucky," he said. "Now folks, this is something that we just can't have. We've got to deal with this, we're going to have to make some changes."

Kentucky is ranked 49th in the rate of adult smoking, with only West Virginia ranked lower, according to Chandler. Kentucky's rate of youth smoking, 14.3 percent, is 62 percent higher than the national average.

"You may not realize it, but every household in this state, on average, pays $1,200 a year to pay for our (state's) smoking habit," he said. "Everybody's having to pay for this in terms of health care costs on the back end, and lost (worker) productivity on the front end."

The foundation president lauded Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless and Murray Mayor Jack Rose for their efforts to enact comprehensive smoke-free ordinances.

Kentuckians support smoke-free laws regardless of their political persuasion, according to Chandler.

"We want a state (smoke-free) law ultimately," he said. "Seventy-one percent of our people actually support it. We've done some sophisticated polling on the subject. And the interesting thing to me is it cuts right across party lines. Almost the exact same number of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support it.

"We look forward to a healthier Kentucky, and we're going to work like crazy to get it done," he said. "We're grateful for all the support that I know you all are going to give us on this journey."

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